by Erin K. | | 4 Comments | Tags:

Welcome to Week 2 of the Online Book Club!

How are you enjoying Small Island? I didn’t really have any idea what the book was about when I started reading, so I have been surprised by the story and the characters. I’ve appreciated that this is a different type of World War II story than the ones I usually read.

In the first nineteen chapters, we mostly hear from Hortense and Gilbert. Hortense does not present herself as a very likeable character in these first chapters. She obviously has a high opinion of herself, and she finds it hard to interact with others. Were you surprised by the way that Gilbert and Hortense got together? I really wonder what happened to Hortense’s friend, Celia. It was so sad that she felt like she couldn’t stay with Gilbert just because she happened to have a mother that was mentally ill.

Gilbert’s chapters were really moving and sad to me. Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have any knowledge of the struggles that Jamaican immigrants had in England, so I was saddened to read about the discrimination and hatred that Gilbert faced. I think the most heart wrenching section was the part where Gilbert talks about how he knew everything about England, his Mother Country. He says, “But as for me I had just one question—let me ask the Mother Country just this one simple question: how come England did not know me?” (p. 117). How heartbreaking—he was fighting for this country that he always looked up to and believed in, but when he actually got there, he realized that no one cared about him and his small country. I couldn’t believe how many people asked him if Jamaica was in Africa. It seems crazy to think that Jamaica was under British rule, but so many British people had no idea where Jamaica was. It was also heartbreaking that Gilbert desperately wanted to do anything other than drive, but when people looked at him, all they could see was a driver.

Gilbert and Queenie were an interesting pair in this section. Were you shocked that the movie theater incident got so out of control? Could you believe that Arthur became a victim of the war?

What are your impressions so far? Who is your favorite character? My favorite character is definitely Gilbert—I feel the most drawn to his narrative. What did you all think of Queenie and Hortense?

While doing research on the author, Andrea Levy, I stumbled upon this video. Check it out if you are interested to hear her talk more about the book and her experiences growing up with Jamaican immigrant parents.


Please let me know what you thought of these first chapters. I am interested to see if this story was surprising to any of you. And I really want to know what you think of all of the characters!

Join me next week as we discuss chapters 20–34. I hope to hear from you then.


4 Responses to “Small Island: Week 2”

  1. Carrol

    I am really getting into this story. I don’t think I can pick out a “favorite” character yet. I am certainly getting a clear picture of each through the circumstances he/she faces.

    I sure felt sorry for Gilbert when Hortense shows up. The situation went from bad to worse. I am anxious to see what happens with that situation.

    I could not believe how tense I was when Gilbert and Queenie were in the tea room and the movie theater. She is certainly a very brave lady. Like Gilbert, I am not really sure she can understand what it is like to be a man who is singled out because of his race.

    I thought the video clip of the interview with the author was really interesting. She seemed genuinely surprised with the popularity of the book. It also made me really sad to hear her comment about her growing up feeling worthless because of where she was born. Obviously, she is a voice for all of the Caribbean people.

    • Erin K.

      Carrol, I’m glad you were able to watch the video clip. I really thought it was interesting to get the author’s perspective. I’m glad you thought so, too.

      I couldn’t believe the movie theater scene, either. I wanted to skim through it because I felt so incredibly tense! I couldn’t believe what happened to Arthur, too!

      I hope you’re able to keep reading. I think you’ll be really interested to see what happens with Gilbert and Hortense.

      See you next week!

  2. Jane Engle

    In the readings thus far, I have been struck by the characters’ youthful naivety. Having primarily lived in their Jamaican culture, they expect to be treated in the same manner wherever they go. Their dreams of life in their British Mother Country would have been understandably different and left them confused. As a result, each would have had to cope with his or her situation the best they could. While I agree that Gilbert is the most mature in dealing with his role as a driver despite his hopes, he easily evokes feelings of sympathy for him. While harder to relate to Queenie and Hortense, I am drawn to them and interested in learning more about their personal coping methods.

    Thank you for introducing us to this book and its author. Having initially seen the PBS broadcast, it was a program I had turned off due to its fictionalized content. Too many recent WWII movies had left me feeling and still feel disappointed with their reenactments of true events. As the author says, “If we could just put the book in a basket and take it door to door, one or two people would read it.” I am glad you made sure our Book Club readers did too!

    • Erin K.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the book, Jane. I haven’t watched the PBS miniseries, but a couple of people here at the library really enjoyed it, so I was intrigued enough to try the book.

      I totally agree that Gilbert is easy to sympathize with. He was the easiest for me to understand, especially when he talks about how sad he is that people in England don’t care about him. By the end of the book, I felt like I could understand where Hortense was coming from–I’m interested to see how you feel about Hortense by the end of the book.

      Thanks for commenting! And, thanks for trying a book that you didn’t really enjoy in it’s television format!

      Talk to you next week!

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